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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 06 February 2008

According to a survey of 3,000 people commissioned by UKTV Gold, a satellite TV channel, Britons are increasingly confusing fact and fiction when it comes to their historical knowledge. While 58 percent believed Sherlock Holmes was a real historical figure, 23 percent believed Sir Winston Churchill was fictional.

On seeing the results of this survey I assumed that I had overslept and woken up on April 1st but, alas, no. It appears to have been a real survey of real people – something which, humour aside, is very worrying indeed.

Education reform, anyone?

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Written by Blog Administrator | Wednesday 06 February 2008

In January we had more than a quarter of a million visits, over a million pageviews, and nearly three million hits.

Thanks for reading... 

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Blog Review 498

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 05 February 2008

A quite remarkable economic finding: the slave trade quite possibly being responsible for the shorter life spans of African Americans. 

A note to environmentalists. Here's the list of things that you can usefully worry about and try to change. Rather than the ones you are worrying about.

A nice laying out of the point of economics. It's not trying to tell us how the world should be: rather, trying to tell us how it is. 

And what can sadly happen when an economist moves from describing how the world is to how he thinks it ought to be. 

Guido points out that the investigative committee into MPs' expenses isn't really all that investigative.

A reminder that not everything in the newspapers is quite what it seems. Some quoted there represent no one but themselves. 

And finally, some money on offer if you can teach economics better than a high priced call girl. 

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Nick Clegg's problem

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Tuesday 05 February 2008

clegg2.jpgLiberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a real problem. Last week one of his MPs tabled a bill in Parliament to force pubs and bars to sell wine in small measures only, while one of his party's MEPs called for a ban on patio heaters.

Greg Mulholland, Lib-Dem health spokesman, wants to make it illegal for bars and pubs to sell wine in anything other than the little 125ml size popular over a decade ago. These were the tiny little glass bowls that didn't allow the wine's aromas to develop in the glass. His excuse is that "people don't realize how much they're drinking."

Meanwhile Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP for the North East, called for the EU Parliament to urge the Commission to ban patio heaters on the grounds that they contribute to global warming. Of course they have a negligible impact; it's just one of those gesture politics tricks to create whipping boys. The surge in the sale of them is probably down to the government's ill-conceived smoking ban anyway.

The result is that poor Nick Clegg has seen his party made to look stupid yet again. He needs to take a lesson from Peter Mandelson, who introduced tight controls over what initiatives individual Labour politicians might launch or pontificate about. It made him unpopular, but it made his party able to control its image. Nick Clegg will have to do something similar or risk seeing idiots and charlatans make his party a laughing stock week after week.

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Reforming general practice

Written by Tom Clougherty | Tuesday 05 February 2008

gp_surgery.jpgAlan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has written to every GP surgery in England urging them to open in the evenings and at weekends. He wants surgeries to be open for an extra three hours a week. The British Medical Association (BMA) is only prepared to offer two extra hours. They say opening for longer would compromise patient care, unless they were given extra resources. The government's proposal would, apparently, only cover a single GP working late at the surgery, without a nurse.

The whole argument is ludicrous. Why do GPs have central contracts with the government at all? Why on earth is the secretary of state sending letters to GP surgeries? This sovietized system is so backward, so obviously inadequate, that it’s a wonder it has lasted so long. In such a system the fight is always between producers and governments, with patients hardly entering the equation.

This could all change very simply. Make GP surgeries independent and self-governing. Then have them agree NHS treatment tariffs with their primary care trusts (the local bodies that commission healthcare services). Let them advertise for patients, or group together into chains of GP surgeries to reduce administrative costs. The revenue these surgeries, or chains of surgeries, brought in would depend on how many patients they treated, and on whether those patients were satisfied with the service and became repeat customers.

In such a system you would quickly find that where there was a demand for such services, GP surgeries would stay open later in the evening or at weekends. All their incentives would be aligned towards providing the best possible service. Of course, the left will scream "privatization" and say this amounts to the abolition of the NHS. Yet services would still be free at the point of use and paid for out of taxation.

It's high time British healthcare put patients ahead of political ideology.

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It s government intervention, stupid!

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Tuesday 05 February 2008

President Bush’s plans to bail out subprime loans by freezing interest payments for adjustable mortgages is ill conceived enough. But did you know that it was another government intervention that goaded these people into making those mistakes in the first place? That is exactly what George Mason University Economist Walter E. Williams is saying in an interesting commentary for the Washington Post:

As with most economic problems, we find the hand of government. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, whose provisions were strengthened during the Clinton administration, is a federal law that mandates lenders to offer credit throughout their entire market and discourages them from restricting their credit services to high-income markets, a practice known as redlining. In other words, the Community Reinvestment Act encourages banks and thrifts to make loans to riskier customers.

However, 96 per cent of mortgages are being paid in time. It is only 2 or 3 percent of homeowners who have to face foreclosures. The Bush bailout will help only few people at a huge cost for the rest of the economy. Above all it is a gross violation of contract rights in a free market (and could even be a Fifth Amendment violation) as Williams rightly states:

If a contractual agreement is willingly entered into and agreed upon by a borrower and lender, it is binding and if broken by one party or the other, harsh penalties should ensue.

Since it was government intervention that got us into the mess more of the same does not make sense at all.


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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Tuesday 05 February 2008

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

– Frederic Bastiat

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Blog Review 497

Written by Netsmith | Monday 04 February 2008

The latest outrage is the proposed muzzling of the Coroners. Here's why it's an outrage. As so often, the courts and the law are there to protect us from an overmighty State.

An excellent list of things that every environmentalist really ought to try and understand about the world. 

Those Cuban election results. You do have to wonder why they bother, really. 

Google's a very smart company: but are they smart enough not to over-estimate the intelligence of politicians? 

Sometimes banning things is efficient. Sometimes it isn't. As so often, the answer is, it depends. 

Reviewing Tim Harford: remember, that by living in the 21st century you have won the lottery of life. 

And finally, looks like someone else has picked up this idea of collecting interesting blog posts. 

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Just how out of touch are MPs?

Written by Tim Worstall | Monday 04 February 2008

There's something of a tradition in American politics of tripping up politicians by asking them how much milk costs, or a loaf of bread. When their answer is out by 100 percent or more they can thus be portrayed as hopelessly out of touch, pampered inside their bubble of privilege and thus not worthy to rule.

At the risk of being yet another person to pile in upon Derek Conway, might I point you to this report?

He (Conway) also complained that MPs are paid “less than the sous-chef at the Commons” and said their salaries should be raised to £100,000 a year from £60,675.

Now as someone who has worked in the catering trade I would be extraordinarily surprised if the sous-chef at the Commons was paid more than £60,675 a year. In fact, as someone whose brother had to move to Kabul to make £50,000 a year as a Head Chef (there is, as you might not be surprised to find out, a certain amount of a danger allowance in that) I'd be absolutely flabberghasted to find out that salaries were so high. Unfortunately, the Common's catering side appears to have no job vacancies at present so I can't check their offers, although the general conditions do look good.

A senior sous-chef at a tony sorta place makes some £30,000 in London. Or a little further down the (ahem) food chain, £25,000. Or £26,000. Or £22,000-£25,000. Or £20,000 to £22,000.

I fear that the Honourable Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is going to have something of a rude awakening when he rejoins the real economy immediately after the next election. Something of a pity of course that he wasn't more informed about conditions in that real economy while he was still likely to remain in Parliament.

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Common Error No. 25

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Monday 04 February 2008

25. "Proportional representation is fairer than our present electoral system which can give power to minorities."

commons.jpgThe argument for proportional representation is that it represents parties in the legislature in proportion to their support in the country, whereas a first-past-the-post system tends to squeeze out smaller parties and often results in a government which has less than 50 percent of popular support.

After listening to the theoretical arguments for proportional representation, look at the practical experience of it. It is under PR that minorities often achieve disproportionate power. PR tends to deny overall majorities, and to promote representation by smaller parties. Coalitions are the norm, with very small parties bargaining for their demands in return for support.

Proportional representation thus brings in the politics of what used to be called the smoke-filled room, of the deals struck in private between the political bosses. The first-past-the-post system may often bring to power parties with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. What it does not do is to give excessive power to very small parties. One has only to look at the disproportionate influence of the extreme orthodox parties in Israel. With only 2 or 3 seats they have exercised a major influence because their votes were needed to build coalitions. It's possible to have a 10 percent shift in opinion in Scandinavia, and see only some junior agriculture minister swapped for someone from another party.

A democracy should enable people to change their government. It is more about throwing out who they don't want than about electing the most popular. Proportional representation makes change difficult. Elections tend to bring small adjustments in the balance between the parties, and to result in coalitions of slightly different composition. There are times when a break from the status quo is needed. It happened in Britain in 1945 and in 1979, but it is doubtful that either would have happened under proportional representation.

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